Watercraft Technologies Pte Ltd & ors v Public Prosecutor

CourtDistrict Court (Singapore)
JudgeAudrey Lim Yoon Cheng
Judgment Date05 January 2001
Neutral Citation[2001] SGDC 3
Citation[2001] SGDC 3
Published date19 September 2003


Grounds of Decision

1. The first accused (Watercraft) is registered as a company whose principal activities are mixed construction, marine construction, and construction and fabrication of steel structures. Four charges were preferred against them for employing four foreign workers (the foreigners), namely, Md Delowar Hossain, Md Senu Miah, Abdur Rahim and Habibur Rahaman, otherwise than in accordance with the conditions of their work permits, as general workers at ERS Industries Pte Ltd (ERS), contrary to section 5(3) of the Employment of Foreign Workers Act (Cap 91A). The conditions of the work permits allowed the foreigners to work as construction workers, but not as general workers.

2. The second accused (David), a director of Watercraft, similarly faced four charges with regard to Watercrafts employment of the foreigners, such offences being committed with his consent, contrary to s 5(3) read with s 20 of the Act. The third accused (Chan), a director of ERS was charged with four charges of abetting Watercraft in the employment of the foreigners other than in accordance with the conditions of the work permits, by intentionally aiding Watercraft to employ the foreigners at ERS as general workers, contrary to s 23(1) of the Act.

3. All three accused were initially represented by their counsel Mr Krishna, who had been briefed since 10 July 2000, when the matter initially came to court. On the morning of the trial, Mr Krishna applied to discharge himself, after giving advice to his clients, and which advice his clients had rejected. Mr Krishna also stated that subsequent to that, his clients did not give him any further instructions. Ms Shalini applied to take over the matter but required an adjournment to prepare the case. I granted Mr Krishnas application to discharge himself, but refused Ms Shalinis application for an adjournment. No reasons were given as to why the accused persons did not give further instructions to Mr Krishna, nor why they chose to change lawyers at such a late stage. Ms Shalini then spoke to the accused persons who decided to represent themselves in the trial.

4. Bearing in mind that the accused were not represented, I took the precaution of finding out from them during the course of the trial, their version of events and defences, in order that I could ask appropriate questions, where necessary, of prosecution witnesses. This was to ensure that there would be no miscarriage of justice as a result of any inexperience or failure on the part of the accused persons to cross-examine prosecution witnesses.

The prosecutions case

Testimonies of PW1 (Mohd Yusoff Johari), PW2 (Donovan Loh) and PW3 (Teo Woon Chih)

5. On 3 November 1999, Employment Inspector Johari (PW1) from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), together with 12 other officers, inspected the premises of ERS at 970 Toa Payoh Road. ERS is registered as a company whose principal activities are the manufacturing and distribution of racks for electronic equipment and components, and are also general contractors for building construction and major upgrading works. They are located at a flatted factory building belonging to the Jurong Town Corporation. When Inspector Johari entered the door of the main unit of ERS, he saw one of the foreigners, Abdur Rahim drilling a piece of metal with a drilling machine.

6. Senior Employment Inspector Donovan Loh (PW2) testified that on the day of the inspection at ERS, he observed a group of men outside the main door of ERS premises, and a Chinese man talking to them. When Inspector Loh approached the group, and asked the Chinese man what the workers were doing there, the Chinese man said that he did not know and asked Inspector Loh to find out for himself. Upon being queried, the three foreign workers, Md Delowar Hossain, Md Senu Miah and Habibur Rahaman stated that they were construction workers. Inspector Loh observed that there were a lot of empty metal racks containing electronic components along the corridors, as well as in a room (within ERS premises) just next to where the group was being briefed.

7. The foreigners were referred to Employment Inspector Teo Woon Chih for further investigations. IO Teo confirmed that the foreigners were Bangladeshi nationals who possessed valid work permits to work as construction workers for Watercraft. The RCB records for Watercraft and ERS were also retrieved (exhibits P17 and P18) which showed the second accused (David) and the third accused (Chan) as directors of Watercraft and ERS respectively.

8. A copy of the Application for Prior Approval to Recruit Foreign Workers together with Annex A, was also tendered as an exhibit in court (exhibit P20), which David confirmed he had seen before he applied for work permits for the foreigners. Annex A to exhibit P20 sets out the scope of works which the workers could undertake as construction workers. IO Teo explained that so long as a worker was registered as a construction worker under the work permit, there was no need to notify MOM each time the worker was deployed on site for construction work.

Testimony of PW4 Habibur Rahaman (Habibur)

9. Habibur was one of the foreigners arrested at ERS premises. He was employed by Watercraft as a construction worker, and David had applied for his work permit (exhibit P13). Habibur was deployed by David to work at ERS from about April or May 1999 to 3 November 1999. David supervised his work at ERS, paid his salary and provided accommodation and transport. When David was not around, Chan would supervise his work.

10. As instructed by David, his duties comprised mainly work within ERS premises, namely, to carry goods such as metal boxes and racks manufactured by ERS to the loading/unloading bay and to clean the premises whenever it was dirty. Sometimes, he was sent by David or Chan to do some construction work outside ERS premises, such as drilling cement floors. The metal racks were also delivered to construction sites and customers premises to be installed. However, although he was given instructions by David to assemble metal racks as part of his job, he did not do so, as there were already others involved.

Testimony of PW5 Md Delowar Hossain (Hossain)

11. Hossain, one of the foreigners, was employed by Watercraft through David, as a construction worker (see exhibit P14). His salary was paid and his accommodation and transport provided by Watercraft. He started working at ERS since June 1998 and was supervised by either David or Chan. His work included carrying, delivering and assembling metal racks at construction sites, as well as doing wiring, plastering and painting at the sites. He would go to the construction sites three to four times a week. Whenever he was not at the construction site, he would be at ERS premises assembling and fixing cabinets and metal racks, and cleaning the premises when it was dirty.

Testimony of PW6 Md Senu Miah (Senu)

12. Senu was employed as a construction worker by Watercraft. David applied for his work permit, paid his salary and provided him with accommodation and transport. On 3 November 1999, the day of the MOM inspection, Senu was drilling metal racks at ERS premises. He had worked at ERS for about two years, and was instructed in his work by either David or Chan. His daily work at ERS comprised drilling and cleaning the metal racks, and cleaning the premises after the job was done. He also delivered and fitted racks on-site whenever required.

Testimony of PW7 Abdur Rahim Lohai Bopari (Rahim)

13. The last foreigner, Rahim, was also a construction worker employed by Watercraft. As with the rest of the foreigners, David paid his salary and provided for his accommodation and transport. On the day of the MOM inspection on 3 November 1999, Rahim was drilling a metal rack at the premises of ERS. He had been working at ERS for about 1 years and was supervised by either David or Chan. At the premises of ERS, his job was to carry goods and to clean the place. However, more often, he was on-site, hacking and drilling holes to fix the metal racks.

Testimony of PW8 Choo Choi Har (Choo)

14. Choo was the Manager of the Construction Permit Section of the Work Permit Department at MOM. She explained how work permit applications for the Construction Permit Section were approved. Work permit applications could not be accepted from an individual but only from a construction company. The Department would identify whether the construction company was a main contractor or a sub-contractor for a construction project.

15. The stages for the application for a construction work permit were as follows. First, the main contractor had to produce evidence of the construction project and a letter of award in order to apply for the man/year entitlement. When the main contractor was granted the man/year entitlement, they could then determine how to distribute that entitlement to their sub-contractors. Next, with the allocation of the man/year entitlement, the sub-contractor...

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